Bursting the bubble: Time to temper Mnangagwa expectations

Just under a year ago, I began writing this column, where my goal was to bring about dispassionate debate about the political and social developments in the country.

By Nqaba Matshazi

At the end of November, when the military tanks rolled in, I abruptly stopped writing because of the fear that gripped me.

While tens of thousands of people thronged the streets calling for and celebrating the fall of former President Robert Mugabe, I decided I will not be part of the celebrations and feared there was need for caution and a healthy dose of scepticism.

This is not because I did not want Mugabe to go, but because a precedent had been set that tanks may be rolled out on to the streets for political reasons in the future.
Importantly too, the new sheriff in town was hardly new, even if we are to use the term generously, as he was part of the furniture for almost four decades and he was a protégé of the former leader.

My second cause for concern was that the beneficiaries of the so-called military intervention were the same people that benefitted from Zanu PF misrule and largesse for the past donkey years and I was and I am still not convinced that anything has changed or will change.

The other reason I was not too enthralled is that some of the members of the new government had never been known for being persuasive and instead had in the past resorted to force or violence or use of the laws to suppress what I believe are basic rights.

It is for this reason, I think, that issues like media and electoral reforms and the repeal of draconian laws are being put on the back burner, even if these have been at the forefront of the democratic struggle, because the new administration, just like the old, does not believe in them.

Supporters of the new government have cautioned that we wait with demands for reforms and concentrate on improving our economy, a somewhat disingenuous argument, as it assumes the economy cannot be improved at the same time as basic rights.

The triumphalism that I have witnessed in the past three months or so reminds me of the overarching theme in 1980, where Mugabe was revered and allowed to get away with excesses, because of the independence euphoria.

Mugabe went on to consolidate power and the western world looked away at his excesses because their business interests were never troubled, while the former President preached reconciliation.

In his book, Story of My Life, the late Vice-President, Joshua Nkomo, lamented that he approached the then governor of Rhodesia, Lord Christopher Soames and complained about electoral violence, which the latter acknowledged was an issue, but looked aside because it served British interests not to intervene in the Zimbabwe polling process.

Fast forward 38 years later and the players are largely the same and the tune has not changed.

In a recent interview with The Economist, President Emmerson Mnangagwa describes the 2008 elections as “very fair”, but everyone knows they were anything but.
So while there seems to be change, the thinking has remained largely the same and this is a worry for me.

We cannot paper over past horrors and human rights abuses by confining them to the dustbin of letting bygones be bygones, or as Mnangagwa once again told The Economist: “Let’s not live in the past.”

Ignoring past injustices will one day return to haunt the country, as this causes fear, unnecessary divisions and anger.

Britain is again leading the chorus for Zimbabwe being open for business, but they are shockingly silent about the need for reforms, which they had been campaigning for for years, another throwback to the 1980s.

In the euphoria that has engulfed the country, critical questions are not being asked in the fear that it would seem unpatriotic or duplicitously seen as calling for Mugabe’s return to power.

We should be able to hold this government to account without the return of Mugabe being used as a sword of Damocles above our heads, as this is the only way the nation can progress.

Mugabe is now being used as some bogey man of sorts; that the new government should be followed blindly or the country risks the return of the former President, just as Rhodesia, Ian Smith and the spectre of colonialism were used to cow those who questioned Zanu PF’s misrule.

If everyone is a cheerleader or critics are silenced, then we risk a metaphorical Mugabe return, where for decades we will be oppressed and be fearful of speaking out because the consequences are too dire to imagine.

In 1980, Mugabe was given a blank cheque to run the country because it was seen as the most prudent thing to do, as Zimbabwe was seen as a country that would rise from the ashes of colonialism and be an example for the rest of the continent.

Today, words like a “rising phoenix” are being bandied about, while the themes of 1980 such as reconciliation and forgetting the past are being raised again.

It seems we are not learning from the past, as this is a time for us to pause, take stock, correct the wrongs of the past and then move on.

Moving on without addressing the excesses of Mugabe’s government, which include many of the so-called new faces, is a recipe for disaster, as there is a risk of repeating the mistakes of old.

Mnangagwa has espoused a fight against corruption, which many critics think is only targeting his political rivals, while his perceived supporters have largely been untouched.

The sceptic in me quickly remembers similar prosecutions under Mugabe, where only opposition supporters or those who fell out with him in government and Zanu PF were immediately put before the courts, while his supporters remained unmolested.

The pattern, the players and the outcomes are largely the same and I am yet to see the promise of the so-called new dispensation. I worry that, like in 1980, where we were overwhelmed by the euphoria of independence, the ecstasy of Mugabe’s fall could be equally all-consuming and there is a risk that we might find ourselves facing similar problems in the not so distant future.

So please excuse my lack of enthusiasm and the overriding worry and feeling of déjà vu, it is like we have been here before and we learnt nothing from our previous experiences.

Feedback: nmatshazi@southerneye.co.zw Twitter @nqabamatshazi

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  1. Mr Matshazi you and ‘analysts’ like Ibo Mandaza had completely written off ED in your articles penned before the November toppling of Mugabe. The political changes demonstrated how wrong analysts can be. Your latest piece shows that you are off the mark again.

  2. bongozozo waparara

    True Dzingi. These are the people who think going backwards. To say the least I don’t know why newspapers favour these headless arguments instead of more constructive technical information and education articles that have a positive bearing on the country. This Matshazi guy habours envy and natural hatred for people that are moving the country forward. Leaving in the past is what you have chosen wena bhudhi. You were hiding during the transition period because you supported the G40 Cabal. Wake up and smell the cheeeeeeeese!

  3. Matshazi is very right. We are in deep shit as a country with Mnangagwa.

  4. Matshazi’s article is only an advice to people not to be overexcited. It took 37 years for Chiwenga and company to realise that there was need to restore legacy. So in a way the guy is trying to make us cautious when dealing with issues of change.Not all changes will benefit the nation.

  5. We had no elections but you tell us Matshazi is wrong. On what grounds is his statement not true?.

  6. Simply put, the coup was just an equivalent of a reshuffle lest are dealing with the same people who have tormented us since independence. The forest may have changed but the monkeys remain the same. Nothing worth celebrating over sugar coated changes. The war is far from over.

    1. matshazi you r right on the spot I totally agree with your analysis

  7. Love destroy hate

    Comment…dzingi and bongozozo waparara are a junta project. so they pretend to see change where there is none. a country is not judged by economic parameters only, as you would want us to believe. Where is our political rights or social rights. Tell me what has changed in that regard. This is not to say that there are any economic changes either. only promises and lies. And more lies.

  8. Bongozozo & dzingi – you might be the lost ones. Some of us experienced 1980 and the endless madness and praise for RGM then…he couldn’t be criticised, people would stop whatever activity to listen to him on the 1.15pm news, he was the most learned president in the world – yeah and what did he leave behind? a country whose living standards have dropped to those of the days of the Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland. If that is not sycophantic idiocy I wonder what is. Repeating the same speaks volumes of how little we have learnt over the past almost 4 decades. Open your eyes and free your mind.

  9. aah a pipe dream

    when rtgs is 1:1 with U.S. dollar cash and we can get that cash out of banks, and when we can do TT swift outside payments again freely, then i will say its a positive change. With ChinaMasa and the current RBZ governor in charge, i don’t see these positive changes coming anytime soon!!!!

  10. Who ever stood up against and toppled dictatorship is a hero. Ed deserves a chance. Do not let cynicism eat you up. You end up reaching the wrong conclusion as you will be quickly proved wrong

    1. ED and Chiwenga did not stand up to Mugabe. They essentially robbed from the man whom they used to steal with. In my opinion, standing up to him would entail challenging him openly at their ZANU PF congress and not having to resort to the barrel of a gun at an unarmed man. The real people to stand against Mugabe are the likes of Tekere, Ndabaningi Sithole, Margaret Dongo and later Chamisa, not Mnangagwa and his junta. Despite Mugabe’s unforgivable sins, Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and company behaved like armed robbers plundering from a fellow hated thief. People rejoice that the thief who used to steal and terrorize them had also tasted his own medicine but that does not mean the “new” armed robbers become heroes. They (ED, Chiwenga) remain robbers despite our classification of them as some sort of messiahs. Why is it that Sibusiso Moyo lied to the nation saying that they were targetting the thieves around Mugabe when the end-goal was to capture power for themselves. Ikozvino vanhu toita setichashoshoma mazwi tichibvunza kuti sei Obert Mpofu asina kusungwawo. Makudo mamwe aya.

  11. First Class Citizen

    Here’s how I view it… I think ED did a fantastic job by toppling Robert, which ever way you look at it. I factually was one of those who went on the streets to add my voice to the many that called for Robert to step down. The thinking was that we will deal with one problem at a time and at that time Robert was number one problem. He was the problem because of failed policies, corruption, he used the police to deliver hell to the citizens, he brought about sanctions, he mismanaged the economy, many of Roberts problems I am sure are known to you all. Now having Robert as the first problem being solved, what is our next problem? Lets find and describe the problems first, then we can associate them to someone or even something.
    So far, most of the problems are inherited from Robert and if these are not addressed starting with the small problems then we have big problems my fellow citizens.
    The generality of the electorate are not asking for bullet trains or underground shopping Malls, we are asking for good roads, clean, safe water, healthy provision of health services, decent education, an acceptable future with jobs and of course affordable standards of living. Right now Zimbabwe is ranked the poorest of the poorest, thnx to Robert we are worse than a country at war, in fact we are at war with ourselves, “the Government and the people”! having said this perhaps we need a completely new set of thinking coz the Robert Mugabe thinking has kicked us in the nuts..
    We can only pray that the forth coming elections will be free and fair but before this happens there’s need to create a level playing field for all. My fellow countrymen it is our constitutional right, our inheritance, our obligation, our benefit, our enjoyment to live free and to determine ourselves which ever way we desire and as such it is only proper that we practice these narratives. As a literate nation, lets practice open expression of the problems affecting us and lets measure the Governments of the day through their progress in addressing the very problems that affect us the poor citizens. The transport system for one is in a mess and Harare City does not have the intellect capacity to come up with innovative solutions, here’s a painful fact, we are no longer third world, we are now a Least Developed Country (LDC).

  12. Its fine ED is being given a chance currently but as for me I choose to fold my arms and be an observer not because of scepticism but of the obvious the illusion of a change in no change so to say.

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